Applying Automation: How would it impact Father Christmas? 


Katie Gibbs 
Head of AI

I’ve spoken a lot recently about automation, and why I think the optimal way to achieve business value with automation is to engage with end users so that we combine their expertise with technology-driven efficiencies in processes. So I want to share some examples to bring this life and, as Christmas is fast approaching, (“Lovely, glorious, beautiful Christmas, upon which the entire kid year revolved!”) why not use Father Christmas’ empire as an example of how automation can be used for right and wrong, and how it can impact experiences for everyone involved?

Bear with me on this one!

If we were to use automation purely as a way of reducing cost (be that effort, time, head count) that Father Christmas and his elves usually invest to ensure that Christmas runs smoothly, then we would have a very different view of our jolly, bearded friend. So, what would automation look like for Santa and what would the impact be, not just on his workload, but on the children eagerly anticipating his arrival?

This week I’m going to consider how automation would impact the creation of the naughty or nice list. What if Father Christmas collected data on children all around the world and used a classification algorithm to fully automate generating the naughty or nice list each year.

The algorithm would set a base line for what naughty and nice looks like based on the data available, and would tally up the number of “nice” days vs “naughty” days. This would save huge amounts of time that Father Christmas spends monitoring children and assessing whether they get presents or not this Christmas, meaning a much more relaxed run up to the festive period for him! However, there are a few issues with this approach. It would mean that a child might have had a naughty start to the year and then made a real effort to be nice as the year progressed, but the algorithm wouldn’t take into account their efforts to change and be nicer if they were out-weighed by the number of naughty days so they would still receive coal in their stocking, which isn’t going to encourage better behaviour next year! The other issue is that the algorithm wouldn’t take into consideration the broader context as to why a child might be behaving a certain way – perhaps their parents are going through a divorce, or they’re having a tough time at school which has impacted the way that they’ve behaved but they’re still nice and just navigating difficulties as they grow up. After all, “there’s room for everyone on the Nice List!”

Yet this isn’t to say that automation can’t add value. The better approach would be to use the classification algorithm to provide guidance to Santa on who’s been naughty and nice, so that he can then add the empathetic approach that he’s known for to provide encouragement to children who may be classified as naughty but are nice at heart and need a nudge in the right direction. This would be the optimal approach for saving time, without compromising the human-centric approach that Santa takes to writing his list – and checking it twice!